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The Top Ten Things You Need to Know about Federal Gun Law By Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina Board Certified Specialist, Federal and State Criminal Law Intro: Why does this matter to you?

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the top ten things you need to know about federal gun law

The Top Ten Things You Need to Know about Federal Gun Law

By Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

Board Certified Specialist, Federal and State Criminal Law

intro why does this matter to you
Intro: Why does this matter to you?
  • Because our state clients are “sitting ducks” for federal gun prosecution, and we need to help them
  • “Criminal case filings [were] 71,022 in fiscal year 2004. Increases occurred in cases involving . . . firearms, with filings reaching their highest levels ever.” Federal Courts Administrative Office, March 15, 2005

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

the top ten in no particular order
The Top Ten (in no particular order)
  • #10: No Guns for Felons
  • #9: No Guns after Misdemeanor Domestic Violence (DV) Convictions
  • #8: PJC’s Are No Help
  • #7: No Guns While Under Indictment
  • #6: No Guns for Drug Users

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

slide4
#5: No Home or Business Exception
  • #4: No Exception for Long Guns
  • #3: No Guns AND No Ammo
  • #2: Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse
  • #1: No Realistic Chance of Regaining the Right to Own a Gun

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

10 no guns for felons
#10: No Guns for Felons
  • “Felon” means anyone “who has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year”
  • Even low level Class I felonies included, because they are “punishable” by more than one year imprisonment in Prior Record Level VI

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

slide6
Misdemeanors are not included in this category, even if they are punishable by more than one year imprisonment:
    • DWI’s
    • General Misdemeanors under the old Fair Sentencing Act (pre-October 1, 1994)
  • BUT: some misdemeanors are subject to the federal gun ban in the next category . . .

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

9 no guns after misdemeanor domestic violence dv convictions
#9: No Guns After Misdemeanor Domestic Violence (DV) Convictions
  • Any misdemeanor that “has, as an element, the use or attempted use of physical force, or the threatened use of a deadly weapon, committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabiting with or has cohabited with the victim as a spouse, parent, or guardian, or by a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim.”

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

slide8
Two parts:
    • Conviction for a misdemeanor assault (simple assault, assault on a female, etc)
    • Victim is spouse, ex-spouse, significant other, child
  • Lifetime federal gun ban – just like felons
  • Also applies to communicating threats for threatening use of a deadly weapon

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

slide9
What about civil domestic violence protective orders (DVPO’s)?
    • Federal gun ban applies while the DVPO is in effect, but not after
    • Practice Tip: agree to the entry of the DVPO in exchange for dismissal of the misdemeanor crime of domestic violence
      • Client gets guns back after DVPO expires

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

8 pjc s are no help
#8: PJC’s Are No Help
  • The argument would be: a PJC is not a “conviction” under state law; therefore, a PJC on a misdemeanor crime of DV or a PJC on a felony is not a “conviction” triggering the federal gun ban
  • But for PJC’s on DV misdemeanors: no room in the federal statutes to make this argument
  • And for PJC’s on felonies, state law ruins it for us:

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

slide11
Federal law does open the possibility of looking to state law to see whether a felony with a PJC counts as a conviction
  • But if the federal courts look to our state’s law, they will see State v. Friend, --- N.C. App. ---, 609 S.E.2d 473 (March 15, 2005): NC Court of Appeals held that a PJC in a felony case qualifies as a “felony conviction” for purposes of the North Carolina felon in possession statute
  • If it’s a conviction for the state gun statute, then it’s almost certainly going to be a conviction for the federal gun statute

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

7 no guns while under indictment
#7: No Guns While Under Indictment
  • Anyone who is “under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year” is not allowed “to ship or transport . . . any firearm or ammunition or receive any such firearm or ammunition.”
  • Even if they have no prior felony convictions

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

slide13
Expressly bans “receiving” and “transporting” and “shipping”
    • So you cannot buy a new gun while under indictment – that would be “receiving”
    • What about old guns – the ones you owned before being indicted? Do you have to get rid of them?
    • Maybe not – no mention of merely “possessing” a gun

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

slide14
But – if you possess it in your car, you are probably “transporting” it
  • What if you have it in your pocket while you are walking down the street?
  • Would you like your client to be the test case in the Fourth Circuit?
  • I tell my clients not to have any guns at all while under indictment – old or new

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

6 no guns for drug users
#6: No Guns for Drug Users
  • Anyone “who is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance”
  • Case law:
    • “[T]he exact reach of the statute is not easy to define.”
    • Does not apply to “infrequent” drug users or to those who used drugs in the “distant past”

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

slide16
Applies to those whose drug use is “sufficiently consistent, ‘prolonged,’ and close in time to [their] gun possession to put [them] on notice that [they] qualified as an unlawful user of drugs under the statute”
  • If you have someone with a known drug problem, tell them to get rid of their guns
  • For close calls, advise them of the law and let them decide

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

5 no home or business exception
#5: No “Home or Business” Exception
  • Never under federal law
  • And not any more under state law
    • Before December 1, 2004, state law permitted a felon to keep a gun “within in his own home or on his lawful place of business”
    • But that was eliminated effective December 1, 2004

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

slide18
And even when it was OK under state law, it was not OK under federal law
    • “[T]he fact that state law permitted [the defendant] to possess a firearm in his home despite his status as a convicted felon . . . [was] not sufficient to insulate him from federal prosecution.” United States v. King, 119 F.3d 290, 293 (4th Cir. 1997)

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

4 no exception for long guns
#4: No Exception for Long Guns
  • Never under federal law
  • And not anymore under state law
    • Prior to December 1, 2004, North Carolina’s felon-in-possession statute prohibited only the possession of a “handgun or other firearm with a barrel length of less than 18 inches or an overall length of less than 26 inches.”
    • But that was eliminated effective December 1, 2004

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

slide20
And even when it was OK under state law, it was not OK under federal law

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

3 no guns and no ammo
#3: No Guns AND No Ammo
  • The federal ban forbids possession of any “firearm”
    • “Any weapon, including a starter gun, which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive.” Also includes the frame of a weapon and silencers.
  • It also forbids possession of any “ammunition”
    • “Cartridge cases, primers, bullets, or propellant powder designed for use in any firearm.”

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

slide22
So – could possession of a single bullet lead to federal prosecution?
  • YES – at least in Pitt County (Greenville)
    • Actual possession – bullet in shirt pocket
    • Nothing yet on constructive possession – let me know if you hear about that

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

2 ignorance of the law is no excuse
#2: Ignorance of the Law is No Excuse
  • Prosecutors in federal court are NOT required to prove that the defendant knew that he was subject to the federal firearms ban
  • “The only knowledge the [G]overnment [is] required to prove . . . [is] knowledge of the possession [of the weapon or ammo]” United States v. Mitchell, 209 F.3d 319, 322-23 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 849 (2000)

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

1 no realistic chance of regaining the right to own a gun
#1: No Realistic Chance of Regaining the Right to Own a Gun
  • Under state law:
    • Prior to December 1, 1995, a felon automatically regained the right to own a gun five years after finishing his felony sentence
    • As of December 1, 1995:
      • No more regaining that right
      • And if you regained it prior to December 1, 1995, you lost it again as of December 1, 1995 – applied to ALL felons, even those convicted before December 1, 1995

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

slide25
Wasn’t that an ex post facto violation? Not according to State v. Johnson, --- N.C. App.

---, 2005 WL 756283 (April 5, 2005)

  • Under federal law:
    • There is a statute that allows you to apply to ATF for special permission to own a gun
    • But since October 1992, Congress has prohibited ATF from spending any money to process such applications

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

slide26
If you submit the application, ATF will return it saying “sorry, we can’t do anything with this”
    • Mr. Bean objected to this and sued in federal court – to no avail
      • United States v. Bean, 537 U.S. 71 (2002)
  • You can still apply for a pardon under federal or state law
    • Good luck

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina

conclusion
Conclusion
  • “Hey, let’s be careful out there”

Keith Williams, Greenville, North Carolina